I recently purged the data from my Facebook account. This effort was shockingly labour intensive: it took a browser script all weekend to crunch, and still many aspects of the process required manual execution. Torching years and years of old Facebook activity felt so liberating that I found another script to do the same thing to my Twitter account.

Going in, I had no idea just how difficult it would be to remove so much data. There is zero commercial incentivize for Facebook or Twitter to provide a “Delete all my posted data but let me keep my contact network” option. These platforms make it monstrously tedious to remove one’s content short of deleting one’s entire account. These systems are apparently designed to make personal ‘data purges’ extremely cumbersome for users.

As Tom Peters observed, “The sole concern of Google and Facebook is to convert the most intimate details in your life into revenue.” But many of us have been using these platforms for so many years that we fail to appreciate just how much data we have donated to them along the way. Try scrolling to the very bottom of your Facebook activity log or Google search history to see what I mean. Dylan Curran’s recent piece in the Guardian demonstrates the scale and magnitude of our complacency. If you want to become acutely aware of how valuable your data is to these companies, try jumping through the hoops required to take your data off their systems. Even if you decide to award the contract for chronicling your life to these companies, you need to be precisely aware of how much you are giving away. As soon as you try to do something as ‘simple’ as remove your past posts, you suddenly realize how soothingly you’ve been lulled into shovelling your personal life into corporate data mines.

At present, I have no plans to post to Facebook, Twitter, or Google again anytime soon. The sole function of my now ‘dormant’ accounts is to allow me to utilize these networks as ‘living directories’ when they present themselves as the only available tools to make contact with certain individuals. Other than that, I’m signing off, at least for the time being. I will leave this post as final ‘breadcrumb’ on Facebook and Twitter.

My focus remains on writing. I will continue posting regularly here on my blog, with a greater emphasis on engaging in the discussions and debates that emerge. If you would like to follow my writing moving ahead, you are welcome to subscribe to weekly email updates. You can also subscribe to this site’s RSS feed with a service like Feedly, Feedbin, Inoreader, or Feed Wrangler. I highly recommend Reeder as a feed reader client.

I will not be syndicating links to new blog posts on social media. I am not interested in supporting our increased dependency on algorithms to determine what we see and read… and, ultimately, think. I do not want to spend my time tweaking or ‘gaming’ algorithms. I am just not interested in the race anymore. The more I play the algorithm game, the more the algorithm game plays me.

I’m out. There are many things I hope to do while I am alive… trying to convince somebody’s advertising algorithm to pay attention to me is not one of those things. Multiply this conviction by the sense that spending time on social media is a suboptimal use of time that comes at the expense of things I truly care about and leaving seems evermore desirable. Just one life to live: I refuse to be a collateral pawn in someone else’s attention war.

Moving ahead, I will use email as my principal means of communicating and organizing personal endeavours, initiatives, and projects. If we have not already corresponded by email, please send me a note at contact [at] jamesshelley.com and say hi. Why? Email is peer-to-peer, distributed, non-proprietary, and adaptable. It is, as far as I can tell right now, the best ‘social platform’ presently at our disposal.

(I will also be maintaining my presence on micro.blog, which is a fascinating, experimental platform. Micro.blog is like a ‘social layer’ that maps over open and independent web sites.)

If you are thinking about purging or deleting your social media accounts, I’d love to hear what you are thinking. What are the considerations that you are weighing? What are your primary concerns? I am curious about your story. Looking back, it’s interesting how many different factors played into this decision for me. How do other paths unfold?

I can’t quite describe how ‘lightening’ it feels to start over again. It is our data that we are giving away here, and it is entirely within our prerogative to take it back. To each their own, but I, for one, am moving on. In the final analysis, it is simply about exercising my choice: Facebook and Twitter are not working for me, so I will focus my energies in other directions. This is about more time and space for connection, community, and conversation. Saying no to the algorithmic data miners really means saying yes to something else.

After some reflection, I’ve concluded that even posting to Twitter is just providing content to a platform for hate and anger. I can’t fix that problem, but I can stop contributing to the platform. And so I will. — Curtis Clifton

‘I don’t care what you think’ poses as a rejection of other people’s opinions and parades as the acceptance of self. But to adopt this concept of ‘self-acceptance in a vacuum’ you must pretend that you are not a human being — you must think of yourself as some alien creature that hasn’t been evolving and adapting for millions of years to live and work in hierarchical social groups. In short, you must think of yourself as a god: self-existent and self-sufficient.

In contrast, being part of a supportive, caring human community means being surrounded by people who genuinely do care about what you think.

Intimacy is not a prevalent feature in a room full of people whose common belief is that nobody in the room has an opinion that matters. Insisting that you don’t care what others think amounts to alienating and isolating yourself. Thus we can feel the aching loneliness behind the image when someone posts a selfie and declares, ’This is my image and identity, and I don’t care what people think of me.’

‘I don’t care what you think’ might be more accurately translated: ‘I am more concerned with someone else’s opinion than I am with your opinion.’ So in the end, it is possible that the I-don’t-care selfie is more about identifying the support of one’s in-group than claiming independence from the opinions of people in general. In other words, ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks about me’ could equate to ‘Who cares, supports, and validates identities that look like this?’

Sometimes ‘I don’t care what you think’ might be a desperate and public attempt to figure out who, in fact, actually cares the most.

This is a short reflection about a common and quirky(?) statement: ‘I don’t care what you think.’

‘I don’t care what you think’ raises a question: what is the point of saying it?

Only someone who really cares what I think needs me to know how much they don’t care. And it appears that they care a great deal that I understand that they don’t care. In fact, appearing to not care is something they seem to care about a great deal.

‘I don’t care what you think’ thus says a great deal about what the speaker wants me to think. Otherwise, there is very little point in speaking the words in the first place. The fact they are saying these words suggests that, in fact, they do care what I think. The phrase is an interesting paradox of language, when you think about it.

The more emphatically someone tries to convince me that they don’t care about my opinion, the more apparent it seems how much they in fact care deeply about my perception of their opinion.

Any place or program designed to foster connections between people can facilitate the formation of an exclusionary bubble. This is one of the curious paradoxes of intentional communities. A socially ‘sticky’ group runs the risk of becoming a victim of its success. When we humans meaningfully connect with one another, we tend to congeal. We tribalize and clubify. As a result, even our best-intentioned efforts to create places for human relationships can seamlessly morph into socially impenetrable fortresses of their own.

Sure, in theory, we love the idea of clique crushing, silo squishing, and bubble bursting places where we can find common cause with one another. But once we have identified our allies and compatriots, and settled down to work together, it is far easier to batten down the hatches than to practice an open door policy indefinitely. Out-groups are guaranteed, unavoidable byproducts of social cohesion.

Sociologically speaking, cliques are a normal part of human social behaviour. But the critical question for today’s waves of ‘social innovation’ communities to address is: who is specifically marginalized or excluded in the process of establishing collectives that purport to exist for the broader social good?

Humans have needs that can make only be met by membership in an ‘us’ — which inherently requires there to be a ‘them’ out there somewhere. The question is not, ‘Is anyone structurally marginalized or excluded by our community?’ but ‘Who is structurally marginalized and excluded from our community?’ The challenge for every would-be hub of social good and connectivity is to figure out how to become more like a public library and less like a golf club.